From Corcoran and Avenal state prisons in the arid Central Valley to historical San Quentin on the San Francisco Bay, California prisons have emerged as raging COVID-19 hot spots, even as the state annually spends more on inmate health care than other big states spend on their entire prison systems.
The new state budget taking effect July 1 authorizes $13.1 billion for California’s 34 prisons, housing 114,000 inmates, more than three times what any other state spends. That sum includes $3.6 billion for medical and dental services and mental health care — roughly what Texas spends to run its entire 140,000-inmate prison system.
And, yet, despite the extraordinary dedication of resources, California prison officials are struggling to contain the COVID outbreaks, let alone prevent them. On March 25, there was just one confirmed COVID-19 case among California’s inmates. Three months later, more than 4,600 inmates have contracted the disease, an